As you read my unfiltered thoughts, you might wonder if we actually like Buck the dog or if you should maybe come and rescue him. So before I start whining my head off about day-to-day life with him …it's important you know that we love him deeply and invest huge amounts of time and effort into his care. I know I am not alone in the challenges anxious dog’s present, and I live with one. So, I get to unburden …I’ve earned it. He is now (for better or worse … just like Alex), a member of our family and very cared for.
If you are currently or have ever, lived with a Malinois/ Working GSD cross I could probably stop right here. You know. As well as all the traits peculiar to the breeds, Buck also experiences severe anxiety when separated from my husband Alex. The effects of his anxiety are easier to manage outdoors, but at home, they can be a nightmare. Buck was just over a year when we got him, so we expected some challenges given his start in life and his breed. Rescued from the streets of Spain, he had gone through several rescues and two loving homes already before he came to us. We, sorry I, thought we were prepared for his arrival. I’m not naïve, I’ve had experience working and living with plenty of high drive dogs, rescue dogs, anxious dogs, dick dogs, the whole gamut of dog-douche-baggery. We prepared the house, rugs down, cage ready, cats in the other side of the house etc. We talked about routines and training and prepared the kids and the garden. We had this. After all, we are experienced dog owners and Alex is an Animal Behaviourist. Buck was going to be a highly-trained working doggy integrated into family life. What could go wrong? I laugh at naïve me then I want to slap her.
Buck can't be alone. Ever. As I write this, upstairs in the office, Buck is downstairs being babysat by our daughter. Despite having been out man-trailing with Alex this morning for hours, everything changed the second Alex left the house without him. Our physically and mentally tired dog changed as soon as the front door closed and Alex breached the garden gate. Ears back, eyes wide and searching, lick lipping and very quickly …the whining and vocal warmups started (Buck, not Alex). This quickly escalated to pacing and woofing at everything from the sounds of ants walking around outside to a gentle breeze. We’ve tried a variety of things to stop the pattern, it’s getting better but slowly.
It’s hard not to resent Buck and his accompanying anxiety at times. Our plan for Buck to sleep in the living room still hasn’t come to fruition. Every night he sleeps in his bed, next to our bed on a giant sloth teddy stolen from my son. Every morning I wake with a wet tongue on whatever body part Buck can get to. Face, bottom, whatever, he has NO boundaries or preferences. I can no longer sleep naked. If the wet slobber doesn’t work. He stares. In my waking state, before my eyes are open, I can feel his eyes and expectations before I even know what day it is. If that doesn’t work, he paces and whines and worst case, paws (gouges) the door. He knows my Achilles heel is house wrecking and damage. He is too smart, he knows either I'll get up or force Alex to 'fix that bloody dog'.
Buck has a strong chase instinct but had no consistent positive experience with cats. We have three cats, who I love and who bring/brought me lots of comfort and cuddles. They can no longer sleep on the end of my bed or sit on my lap while I watch TV or read. They now must circumnavigate counters, bookcases and all the high places, to avoid Buck. Our three-legged tortoiseshell, my favourite cat, took a six-month summer Holiday because she hates him.
Family days out are now limited to places Buck can come too. We can’t all go and visit my best friend as she has cats that haven’t yet learned he’s just a big idiot. Kennels would be too stressful for him so this year, we went camping. He spent the entire week trying to make friends with other campers’, licking kids ice creams, trying to drag the car he was tethered to across the site and barking through canvas. Alex didn't get to experience the fancy air bed we bought for the trip. He and Buck were relegated to their own tent on a cheap roll mat that we wouldn't care if Buck destroyed.
God help us all if the door goes, or a neighbours child walks within a hundred metres of the house. Buck will launch himself through people, furniture and if it wasn’t toughened glass, I suspect the windows. Often, there is no one there and Buck is simply protecting us or warning the wind. I’m a pretty anxious person so these outbursts from zero to a million are hard. We haven’t even touched on his lack of spatial awareness. Stairs and doorways are now major hazards for him and us and NEVER leave a cup or bottle on the ground.
For me, the worst part is my picture of how life would be is very different from how it actually is. Add in a generous sprinkling of guilt for seriously wanting to launch a dog out the window and it’s not a great advertisement for me or for dog ownership. Most days, the best thing about Buck is his name which allows me to swear at him in some pretty creative ways without being judged by people who assume they’ve heard wrong. For Buck’s sake, calm the Buck down, shut the Buck up …the variations are endless.
But I try to remember how far we have come. Especially how far Buck has come. I hope I’m not anthropomorphising him, but I’m pretty sure he knows he’s found his forever home and that is the biggest win. Sure, he still hates being away from Alex who can’t go to the bathroom without him. Our floors are covered in claw marks, there are gouges in the doors where he’s learned to open them, hair everywhere and huge limitations on our social life …but … Buck is improving, all be it, slowly.
On his best day and especially when he’s out with Alex training, he’s a flipping genius. He’s smart and clever and oddly, very funny with the most expressive face and ears. We get to be proud 'Buck-parents' as he picks up his training quickly and his relationship with Alex blossoms. He is brilliant in restaurants and doesn’t give a hoot about other dogs. Except for the neighbour’s dog Ollie, a flight risk who Buck calls on some days and opens the front door for. Can’t tell you how much fun Alex and Buck have tracking Ollie through the fields. Buck is affectionate and loves our children and anyone who would like to scratch his ears or be sat on and licked. He no longer tries to savage the hoover, to be fair this was a pretty quick fix. We are still working on my foot massage machine which I miss using while watching a movie but I have hope. He loves picking up shoes and gloves and pretty much anything within his reach. Socks have given us no end of comedy as with his ears back, he really looks like Dobbie the House Elf thanking us for his freedom. Two of our cats have semi-trained him and they can now (with one eye open) sit on the sofa IF we are in the room. Sure, Buck has a couple of snout scars, but it adds character to his handsome face.
I wish I could end this with some sage words of wisdom, but I can’t. He’s annoying as hell but the silver lining is this ….any wins you get feel like winning the lottery! Take the little wins, enjoy them, remember you are not a shit dog owner because your dog is hard work and high drive. I’ve learned progress is incremental so try not to feel guilty when you want to launch him into space. Don’t compare them to other dogs, it will destroy your soul and lead you to drink or over-eating or maybe both. Anyone who doesn't know you or your dog and has an opinion/judgement ...ignore. Maybe the best piece of advice though is this. Get a good Behaviourist or Trainer to help you understand your dog and build your relationship. And if possible …. Get a support group. Someone needs to start Dog’s Anonymous (DA). I’d go! Hi, My names Nikki and I’m a crazy-dog-a-holic.
Finally …Good luck fellow humans.